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In 'The Quiet Earth' The End of the World Arrives with a Whisper

Bruno Lawrence in Quiet Earth (1985)

This cerebral drama stands up with some of the best and most original science fiction.

The Quiet Earth

Director: Geoff Murphy
Cast: Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge, Pete Smith
Length: 91 minutes
Studio: Pillsbury Films
Year: 1985
Distributor: Film Movement
MPAA Rating: R
US Release Date: 2016-12-06

Just around ten years ago I took on the enjoyable task of reviewing a lot of post-apocalyptic films when a fan recommended that I watch and review The Quiet Earth (1985). It's not an intended pun on the title when I say that I had never heard of the film, in spite of its uniqueness and acclaim.

Unique this film most assuredly is. Unlike Australia’s loud and violent Mad Max (1979), New Zealand’s The Quiet Earth approaches the end of the world in a very different way, worthy of its title. Without biker gangs, zombies, marauders, vigilantes or secret societies of survivors, the title silent planet comes to its end with a creepy and terrifying peacefulness.

Zac Hobson (superbly portrayed by Bruno Lawrence) wakes up late for work because the stupid alarm clock didn't go off. He calls his office but no one answers, and outside of his window, there's absolutely no traffic whatsoever. Slowly but... well, slowly, Zac realizes something is a little bit "off" about this day, something he can't quite put his finger on. Could it be that every other human being has vanished without a trace and Zac just might be the very last contestant on the proverbial game show of life? Yep, that could very well be it. But, hey, we've got some lovely parting gifts for you, Zac, namely, the whole gosh darned planet!

This alone proves that The Quiet Earth is a very uncommon after-the-fall film written by Lawrence, with Bill Baer and Sam Pillsbury (who also produced), loosely based on the 1981 novel by Craig Harrison and directed by Geoff Murphy (Young Guns II, Under Siege 2 and Fortress 2). Other influences on the film’s plot include George A. Romero’s film Dawn of the Dead (1978) in spite of its lack of walking dead and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), in spite of its lack of vampires. Film historians have also noted a striking similarity to Ranald MacDougall’s American sci-fi film The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959), which closely mirrors the non-Harrison parts of The Quiet Earth.

Regardless of the sources, The Quiet Earth takes an engaging and pensive journey through the psychological ramifications of being truly, not metaphorically, alone in this world. In spite of some thrilling moments, this is hardly an action film. The influence of The Quiet Earth is written all over films like 28 Days Later (2002), the film version of Resident Evil (2002) and even the TV series The Walking Dead (2010). However, this semi-unknown sci-fi classic is hardly a horror flick.

Zac finds himself at first desperately trying to find another living human being, echoing aspects of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1950) in an abandoned city-scape. He uses radio announcements and huge signs to keep any prospective rescuer or rescuee apprised on where to find him. But as time goes on, two things become clear to him. 1. He is most likely the last man on the quiet Earth and 2. He may well have been part of the cause of this apocalypse.

Which brings us to 3. He's going quite insane very quickly.

What follows is both fascinating and frightening as our only character goes from shock to denial to anger to megalomania to blasphemy to cross-dressing to violence to the edge of suicide to acceptance. But the questions begin to really fly when he discovers bodies out there, some that haven't been dead for long.

Zac spends so much screen time as the only character (which is a testament to the quality of this never-dull film) that the audience is just as shocked as he is when another survivor is found in the form of Alison Routledge's Joanne. As Zac tries desperately to finish his research and possibly reverse the effects of the end of the world, questions begin to arise as to whether Zac and Joanne might actually be forced into becoming the new Adam and Eve.

And tensions are enhanced by the appearance of the proverbial second rooster in the henhouse in the form of Pete Smith's Api. One can't be the last man on Earth if there is another.

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The Quiet Earth may not maintain its absolute brilliance for its full 91 minute run time Murphy's film successfully evolves without feeling like a montage of varied ideas about the end of the world. His take on drama and the psychologically surreal make for a more realistic and thrilling Science Fiction about the end of the world. This is a refreshing take on what could be a tired, old subgenre of Sci-Fi, The Quiet Earth might inhabit virtually all its own, much like its title character. However, the film manages to be mesmerizing from beginning to end, especially with Bruno Lawrence's acting.

The Quiet Earth is a great and unique film, which looks and sounds excellent in Film Movement’s new 2016 2K digitally restored print in full stereo 5.1 surround sound. However, because the film is so good it surely deserves a more robust set of bonus features in its quiver. What we have is welcome, however, so much more is warranted. The original trailer is joined by a new essay by Teresa Heffernan, but the most noteworthy inclusion is the feature commentary by critic Odie Henderson and no less a scientific expert than Neil Degrasse Tyson himself.

The Quiet Earth is not your utopian, sterile, futuristic sci-fi, it's not your used-future, action and adventure space opera, it's not your interstellar military space exploration show, nor is it even your dusty, sandy, post-apocalyptic renegade adventure. But for those of you who can handle the cerebral drama that marks some of the best sci-fi, The Quiet Earth is for you. There are very few films like it.


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